How to Start a Food Truck Business

Starting a food truck can be an excellent introduction to the
world of running your own business. Food trucks are
self-contained ventures that will give you plenty of
exposure to essential business skills. From creating a
great menu to sourcing ingredients, and preparing meals
to making a profit, you’ll need to get up to speed quickly.

Starting a food truck can be an excellent introduction to the world of running your own business. Food trucks are self-contained ventures that will give you plenty of exposure to essential business skills. From creating a great menu to sourcing ingredients, and preparing meals to making a profit, you’ll need to get up to speed quickly.

We know it can be daunting to start a food truck business, and we’re here to help. We’ve supported over 100,000 people to form their business and provided answers, guidance and support to transform them into entrepreneurs. We’ll guide you through what you need to know to start your food truck business and get it off the ground.

Here’s our simple guide to opening up your successful food truck business. From exploring the types of food trucks you can start to the legalities of setting up your business and the realities of your day to day operations, this guide is here to help.

Read on for some insight into creating your own food truck business and becoming a food-based entrepreneur. In this guide we’ll cover:

  • Statistics on why you should start a food truck business selling meals to the public
  • Deciding whether a food truck business could be right for you
  • Ideas for the type of food business you could form
  • Ways to validate your food truck business idea
  • Food truck business planning
  • Choosing the right business structure for your meal-based company
  • Setting up your food truck business including location, equipment, employees, taxes, finances, licenses and more
  • Groups, forums and support for food truck business owners
  • Helpful software for food truck businesses

Why You Should Start a Food Truck

Food trucks are incredibly popular. Aside from the initial cost of the food truck and equipment, the barriers to entry are fairly low, which makes them an ideal starting point for food-based entrepreneurs. Here are some statistics on the growth and staying power of food truck businesses:

4,000

Approximate number offood truck businesses in the U.S.

$2B

Estimated worth of food truck industry in the U.S per year.

$1000k

The average startup cost fora food truck business.

  • The industry employs around 15,000 people
  • The most popular types of food trucks are desserts, Central and South American, mixed ethnicity, Greek Mediterranean, Asian and traditional American food like burgers, sandwiches and hot dogs

This is why food truck businesses are so exciting — how can you be part of that success? We're here to help you figure that out.

Is Running a Food Truck Business Right for You?

Although it can be exciting to form a food truck business, there will be significant demands on you as a small business owner. Here are some of the things you can expect.

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A Day in the Life of a Food Truck Owner

Here are some of the typical tasks you’ll be performing for your food truck business on a daily basis.

  • Checking you have enough ingredients for all the meals you’re offering and ordering food to build up your stock
  • Refining your menu so you can make good food at a reasonable cost and sell it for a profit
  • Talking with venue owners and event organizers to see if you can sell food at certain locations
  • Preparing food before you start your day to reduce preparation time later
  • Working long hours to meet diner demands throughout the day and night
  • Keeping up to date with all the licenses and permits you need to run a healthy, hygienic food truck
  • Marketing your business through social media and other channels
  • Managing your finances so you have enough profits to pay yourself and stay operating
  • Maintaining your food truck and equipment so it stays in good repair
  • Interacting with members of the public
  • Preparing, cooking and serving food

Skills Needed When You’re Opening and Operating a Food Truck

The following skills will be very useful in your role as a food truck small business owner:

  • Inspiration to think up interesting food combinations, flavors and meals
  • Good understanding of your ingredients costs, your operating expenses and your profits
  • Strong interpersonal and customer service skills for negotiating venues and serving food
  • Ability to work in a small, confined space for many hours a day
  • Excellent administration skills to stay on top of ordering ingredients, managing cash, profit margins, getting permits, etc.

What Your Food Truck Customers Are Looking For

Although the needs of your food truck customers may vary, they might expect:

  • Well-prepared, nutritious, wholesome food
  • Interesting food served in a new or unusual way
  • Exciting and inspirational flavor combinations
  • Food that can meet unique dietary needs
  • Food “on-the-go” for people who are just grabbing a quick bite

Understanding who your customers are and what they want will be a big part of the success of your food truck business.

What Type of Food Truck Business Should You Start?

When it comes to starting a food truck business, you have plenty of choices. Here are the main areas where food truck businesses can be successful:

Strong research abilities

Food Trucks Focusing on Specific Cuisines

These are the most popular food trucks of all — those that specialize in food from a particular region or culinary tradition. From Asian-inspired noodles to grab-and-go burritos, or spicy curries to artisanal grilled sandwiches, there are plenty of niches you can explore and grow into.

Good math skills

Food Trucks for Special Diets

There’s a growth in specialized diets, with diners looking for food that will meet their nutritional choices. From plant-based or gluten-free to diets focused on a specific culture, you can quickly build up a good reputation with a subset of diners and get excellent word of mouth.

Excellent forecasting abilities

Food Trucks Tied to Events or Locations

Some food trucks may only go to particular locations or events. These food truck entrepreneurs have done their research and know exactly what their diners want. They’ve often negotiated long-term deals with venue owners and event organizers and may have exclusive rights to provide food.

Great flexibility

Food Trucks Associated With Restaurants and Breweries

Some restaurants may want to extend their offerings through a food truck. If you have a close association with a particular eatery, it could be worth talking to them to see if they’ll sponsor you as their “face on the road.” Likewise, breweries and bars often want food trucks to give their patrons somewhere to eat, so that could be an excellent partnership.

Validating Your Food Truck Business Idea

These ideas are just starting points — you’ll need to do plenty of research to understand your customers and create a food truck experience they’re going to love.

It can be quite expensive to open a food truck business, with estimates of between $50,000 and $100,000 for your startup costs. Before committing too much time, energy and money into your new food truck business, it’s vital to test the marketplace.

  • Look at who your competitors are in the space: Food trucks are a popular type of business, so it’s important to know who else is operating in your area. Before starting your own, see who else is out there. Do some local research, go to events and popular public places and see the types of food trucks already operating, This can help you find a niche that’s not already taken.
  • Identify your food truck business’ unique selling points (USPs): What does your food truck offer that your competitors don’t? Look for ways that you can stand out, whether that’s with your chosen cuisine, supporting people on particular diets or something else.
  • Understand your market: Clearly identify exactly who your customers are likely to be and what they want to eat. You’ll need to find a food truck niche where there’s enough demand for the food you’re making and selling.
  • Talk to clients: Speak with potential customers about what they want from a food truck. Are they after a particular type of food that they can’t already get? Can you offer a meal experience in a different way?
  • Get involved with food truck communities and discussion groups: One of the great things about food truck businesses is that there are several communities and discussion groups. Get involved in them and learn the ins and outs of your chosen market before committing.
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Keep researching and testing until you find the right type of food truck business. It’s fine to say no to the first few ideas, so long as you settle on a niche where there’s a genuine need.

The Food Truck Business Plan

You need to define how you’re going to run your food truck business, market yourself, get sales, make a profit and grow. This can only come about by creating a watertight food truck business plan. It will help you get your thinking in order and show your commitment to your new venture.

You will also need to look at financial projections for your food truck business. What are your expected sales and revenues? What is your profitability? How much money will you keep in the business to grow it? How much will you pay yourself and others?

Food truck business plans do vary slightly, but they should all cover the following areas:

Here’s what you can expect in an average day
  • 1 An executive summary with the most important points from your business plan
  • 2 Your goals and what you hope to achieve with your food truck business
  • 3 A description of your food truck business, background information and context
  • 4 A market analysis and likely demand
  • 5 An overview of how your food truck business is structured
  • 6 Your business model
  • 7 How you will market and sell your offerings
  • 8 Financial projections, revenue and profitability
  • 9 Appendice

In particular, your food truck business plan should cover your startup and operational costs. You’ll need to work out how long it will be before you can turn a profit, bearing in mind the expense to buy a truck and equip it with specialized food facilities. Even after that, you’ll also need to put money toward ingredients, permits, wages, utility costs and more. Your food truck business will succeed or fail based on its profitability, so a rock solid understanding of your pricing and expenses is essential.

Choose the Right Business Structure and Register Your Food Truck Business

There are five main business structures you can have in the U.S., and it’s important to choose the right one. We’ve shared your options below. They are:

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Sole Proprietorship

If you don’t choose to form a legal business entity for your food truck business, you will be a sole proprietor by default. This won’t give you the legal protections you need, so we do not recommend this.

Limited Liability

Partnership

Similar to a sole proprietorship, if you go into business with someone else without forming a legal business entity, you will be treated as a partnership. This doesn’t give you limited liability protections, so we don’t recommend it for your food truck business.

Series LLC

Limited Liability Company or LLC

The most common type of business entity. An LLC is fast, simple and inexpensive to set up and maintain. It protects your personal finances and assets and is a great way to start your food truck business.

S Corporation

S Corporation

This is a more complex type of business and isn't generally recommended for smaller organizations, like a food truck business.

C Corporation

C Corporation

These are the largest and most complex types of businesses and are typically far more than the average entrepreneur or food truck business owner will need.

For more information on the advantages and disadvantages of different types of businesses, please see our in-depth guide. If you’ve still got questions, we’ve answered them to help you choose the right business structure for your food truck business.

In most cases, our recommendation for your food truck business would be to create an LLC. We’ve got a complete guide to everything you need to do. LLC formation does vary from state to state, but we’ve got you covered, wherever you are.

Setting Up Your Food Truck and Business Operations

Once you've legally created your food truck business, you’ll need to get some other things in place.

Location of your Food Truck business

You’ll mainly be operating your business from the truck itself, and this will be your most important initial investment. You need a truck that has enough space to work, can fit all your equipment, allows easy access to customers, will fit into most parking lots and is easy to repair and maintain.

You might buy an empty truck and build it out yourself, buy a truck that’s already been fitted out for food service or even get a preowned vehicle. Make sure you explore all your options and figure them into your business plan and expenses.

Equipment for Your Food Truck

You will need cooking and other special equipment for your food truck. Depending on the type of food you make, you may need a stove top, oven, grill, refrigerator, broiler or other cooking equipment. The appliances you choose will need to be engineered to fit into your food truck and secured so they’re safe to use.

Marketing Your Food Truck Business

Much of your marketing will come from being in the right place at the right time. You can also try local advertising with flyers, press, radio ads and other promotions. Don’t underestimate the power of local social media either — connecting with your customers can create great ongoing revenue.

Software and Processes

The right software and processes will make running your food truck business a little easier, especially for financial management, point of sale and ingredient tracking. See our list of the best apps and software at the end of this guide.

Employees

To begin with, you probably won’t need to hire anyone else for your food truck business, especially if you’re a good administrator. You can run the business yourself, and only think about employing others when you have the money and it makes sense.

Finances and Taxes

You will need a separate business bank account for your food truck business. You might also want to consider a business credit card. Additionally, you will also need to keep careful bookkeeping records and file business and personal taxes. Here at Incfile we can even help you file your taxes.

Our Start a Business Checklist will get your business going in the best possible way.

Conclusion

Find the right niche, and your food truck business could be an enormous success. You’ll certainly learn quickly if it’s right for you, and with perseverance you can turn a food truck into a very profitable venture.